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Lollapalooza reopens after heavy storm puts on show

MusicConcertsGrant ParkMedia IndustryLollapalooza

Thunder was the music and lightning the light show for a time this afternoon, causing evacuation of the Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park while a powerful storm front tore through the Chicago area.

About 2 1/2 hours later the festival reopened, and the Chicago area began to clean up.

Almost 61,000 people were ushered out of Grant Park during Lollapalooza's first-ever evacuation, organizers said.

At a press conference Saturday evening, officials said about six bands would not get to play as scheduled even though the fest's closing time had been pushed back to 10:30 p.m.

Today's forecasted storms prompted concert promoters C3 Presents, Chicago police, fire and park officials, and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications to meet around 2:30 p.m. and agree to temporarily pull the plug on the festival as the storms got closer, said Gary Schenkel, OEMC executive director.

Concert-goers were told to evacuate to three underground sites -- Grant Park North Garage, Grant Park South Garage and East Monroe Street Garage -- through social media, message boards, loudspeakers, and police and other public safety personnel, he added.

"You can not force people to go into the weather shelters, so fortunately a lot of patrons took advantage of the restaurants and bars around the event," Schenkel said, adding the decision was agreed upon by all groups.

The park shut down around 3:30 p.m. and reopened by 5:45 p.m.

No injuries or arrests were reported during the evacuation or reopening, Schenkel said.

Charlie Jones, C3 executive director, said he believed the evacuation was well-executed.

He said all policies, including public safety, were put in place with Chicago departments well before the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair last summer.

"That did not influence our decision," he said.

The incoming storm front hit about an hour into the evacuation,  and mostly calm crowds on Michigan Avenue gave way to yelling clumps of people sprinting towards the nearest shelter as a greenish-gray dark clouds devoured the sky and torrential rain began to fall.

Many festival-goers ducked into cafes and restaurants while others hunkered down at the North Grant Park Garage, one of the established underground evacuation centers.

"This better be an awesome storm is all I have to say," said Sara Grimley, from Kenosha, Wis., after leaving the park. For about an hour at its height the storm did not disappoint, with heavy rain and frequent thunder and lightning.

Crowds began heading back toward the main gates as the worst of the storm passed a bit after 5 p.m.

Carolina Cole and her daughter, Angelina, were told that the gates wouldn't open until almost 6 p.m. and they weren't sure how to kill the time.

"We're going back but it depends on whether we want to get our rain gear and stand in the rain for an hour," said Cole, 54, donning a tank top and shorts.

Cole said they were a little disappointed by the delay but they weren't thinking about a refund since they both have passes for the entire weekend.

"We were here yesterday, we're planning to come back tomorrow," Cole said. "It would be great to see the rest of today but if we can't, I'm not going to freak out."

"There won't be riots in the streets," Angelina said, chuckling.

All of the bands stopped more or less at the same time and people were encouraged to leave by the bands before they exited the stage.

"We regret having to suspend any show, but safety always comes first," said Shelby Meade, communications director for C3 Presents, in a release.

Eventually, the storm itself became the show. Some stranded attendees ran barefoot down the street, embracing the soaking conditions while others snapped photos and videos of blinding lightning strikes, ear-splitting thunder and umbrella-less people scampering through the streets.

"That's crazy," one man told his friend, holding up his camera.

Some fans worried about whether they'd miss their favorite bands.

"There were a lot of bands I wanted to see so I hope they find a way to reschedule those shows," said Jean Compton, 20, of Lincoln Park, who looked forward to performances from Alabama Shakes and The Tallest Man on Earth.

Some of the people who evacuated to the North Grant Park Garage said they went there on their own, and didn't get their information from festival staff.

Alicia Fuentes, 27, visiting from San Francisco, Said she evacuated to the garage only because her car was parked there.

"All they said was 'move now, move now,' no directions. Nothing. We didn't even know what was going on until I called my mom," Fuentes said. "She said there are severe thunderstorms coming through, you better go underground."

Most of the fans evacuated quickly but some initially refused to go, even as the sky darkened.

"Were not leaving," said Ashley Dunn, 21, at about 4:15 p.m., about 45 minutes after the festival was suspended.

Loren Santow, 56, and his friends were stretched on a now-empty bench.

"It doesn't feel like an emergency situation is imminent," he said. That changed by 5 p.m. or so.

ComEd spokeswoman Krissy Posey said that as of 9 p.m., a total of 119,000 customers were left without power because of the storm, with customers in the southern region hardest hit.

That number breaks down to 18,000 people in the city of Chicago, 9,000 in the northern region, 69,000 in the southern region and 22,000 in the west region.

Posey also said that they have restored power to 125,000 customers since the start of the storm.

By 12:45 a.m., power had been restored to about 149,000 customers, according to the company.

As the storm took hold, emergency crews were called out to “many’’ various storm-related emergencies across the city, including downed wires, transformers that were sparking and smoking, and at least one tree that fell in the middle of Waveland Avenue and Fremont Street, Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim said.
 
“It was blocking the roadway,’’ Ahlheim said. No one was injured.

Ahlheim said there were also several small fires, but she was not sure how they started. No one was injured in any of the issues, she said. 

As the storm hit, at least one man aboard a 34-foot sailboat who was about a quarter mile off Montrose Harbor could not make it in, according to a police Marine Unit officer.
 
Several residents in nearby high-rises saw he was struggling and called to alert authorities.

A police Marine Unit boat was sent out to rescue him and towed the boat into the harbor safely, the officer said. No one was hurt.
 
On the Southwest Side near Midway Airport, Chicago Fire Department authorities reported several wires down and some small fires from lightning strikes, but nothing major.

Area damage from the storm included the roof being blown off a retirement home in Aurora, affecting about 80-100 residents.

Wind apparently tore off the rubber membrane roof at the Constitution House, 401 N. Constitution on Aurora's west side, causing extensive water damage on floors 4-7 and affecting 96 units, said city spokesman Dan Ferrelli.

No injuries were reported, and the Red Cross was assisting the Aurora Victims Services Unit in relocating the residents, he said. Many of those affected will be housed with relatives, while some will be placed temporarily in unused units in the complex. Officials believe ultimately about 20 people might be displaced.

Lightning struck the roof of a multi-unit residence in the 500 block of Hartford on the southwest side of Aurora, causing a small fire and some roof damage but no injuries. About 17 people were displaced. There also were numerous calls of wires down and tree damage, Ferrelli said.

The weather also temporarily halted Metra service on all Union Pacific-operated lines, which includes the UP North, the UP Northwest and the UP West, said Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.

Reile said UP’s operating policy calls to stop trains when high winds are expected to exceed 50 m.p.h.

"High winds and trains can create blow overs, so it's a safety precaution," Reile said.

As the worst of the fast-moving storm started to move out over Lake Michigan, it left in its wake reports of winds as high as 80 m.p.h. and rains that delivered 1.65 inches of rain within 30 minutes in Yorkville. Midway reported 1.43 inches of rain in 30 minutes.

The National Weather Service also issued a flash flood warning for the portions of the area.

It'll take several hours until the chance of bad weather moves completely out of the area, and Sunday looks like a beautiful day, with some clouds and temperatures in the mid-80s.

Chicago-area temperatures peaked in the low-to-mid 90s before the thunderstorms arrived to cool things off. Combined with higher humidity, the temperatures made being outside uncomfortable, with a heat index approaching 105.

Saturday's 90-degree temperatures made it the 39th day this year with temperatures that high; the record is 47, set in 1988, according to the National Weather Service. Saturday also was the 40th straight day with a high in the 80s or warmer, according to agency figures; that's the third longest ever behind 46 days in 2010 and 42 in 1955.

There's a good chance both of those records fall this summer – we've just entered August.

Dawn Rhodes, Heather Gillers, Kevin Williams, Rosemary R. Sobol and Jennifer Delgado contributed to this report.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

Thunder was the music and lightning the light show for a time this afternoon, causing the suspension and evacuation of the Lollapalooza festival in Grant Park while a powerful storm front moved through the Chicago area.

 

About 2 1/2 hours later the festival reopened, and the Chicago area began to clean up.

 

The incoming storm front caused the evacuation order about 3:30 p.m., and mostly calm crowds on Michigan Avenue gave way to yelling clumps of people sprinting towards the nearest shelter as a greenish-gray clouds devoured the sky and torrential rain began to fall a little while later.

 

Many festival-goers ducked into cafes and restaurants while others hunkered down at the North Grant Park Garage, one of the established underground evacuation centers.

 

"This better be an awesome storm is all I have to say," said Sara Grimley, from Kenosha, Wis., after leaving the park. For about an hour at the height the storm did not disappoint, with heavy rain and frequent thunder and lightning.

 

The festival ground in Grant Park reopened a little before 6 p.m., and the city announced it would close at 10:30 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. to provide organizers flexibility in reconfiguring the schedule and allowing more artists to perform.

 

Crowds began heading back toward the main gates as the worst of the storm passed a bit after 5 p.m.

 

Carolina Cole and her daughter, Angelina, were told that the gates wouldn't open until at least 6 p.m. and they weren't sure how to kill the time.

 

"We're going back but it depends on whether we want to get our rain gear and stand in the rain for an hour," said Cole, 54, donning a tank top and shorts.

 

Cole said they were a little disappointed by the delay but they weren't thinking about a refund since they both have passes for the entire weekend.

 

"We were here yesterday, we're planning to come back tomorrow," Cole said. "It would be great to see the rest of today but if we can't, I'm not going to freak out."

 

"There won't be riots in the streets," Angelina said, chuckling.

 

All of the bands stopped more or less at the same time and people were encouraged to leave by the bands before they exited the stage.

 

In a release, organizers said festival-goers were being directed to pre-established underground evacuation and shelter sites along Michigan Avenue in the Grant Park North, Grant Park South and East Monroe Street garages.

 

"We regret having to suspend any show, but safety always comes first," said Shelby Meade, communications director for C3 Presents, the promoter behind Lollapalooza, in the release.

 

Eventually, the storm itself became the show. Some stranded attendees ran barefoot down the street, embracing the soaking conditions while others snapped photos and videos of blinding lightning strikes, ear-splitting thunder and umbrella-less people scampering through the streets.

 

"That's crazy," one man told his friend, holding up his camera.

 

The lack of information about the changed schedule left many worried about whether they'd miss their favorite bands.

 

"There were a lot of bands I wanted to see so I hope they find a way to reschedule those shows," said Jean Compton, 20, of Lincoln Park, who looked forward to performances from Alabama Shakes and The Tallest Man on Earth.

 

Some of the people who evacuated to the North Grant Park Garage said they went there on their own, without guidance from festival staff.

 

Alicia Fuentes, 27, visiting from San Francisco, Said she evacuated to the garage only because her car was parked there.

 

"All they said was 'move now, move now,' no directions. Nothing. We didn't even know what was going on until I called my mom," Fuentes said. "She said there are severe thunderstorms coming through, you better go underground."

 

Most of the fans evacuated quickly but some initially refused to go, even as the sky darkened.

 

"Were not leaving," said Ashley Dunne, 21, at about 4:15 p.m., about 45 minutes after the festival was suspended.

 

Loren Santow, 56, and his wife were stretched on a now-empty bench.

 

"It doesn't feel like an emergency situation is imminent," he said. That changed by 5 p.m. or so.

 

As the storm hit, at least one man aboard a 34-foot sailboat who was about a quarter mile off Montrose Harbor could not make it in, according to a police Marine Unit officer.

 

Several residents in nearby high-rises saw he was struggling and called to alert authorities.

 

A police Marine Unit boat was sent out to rescue him and towed the boat into the harbor safely, the officer said. No one was hurt.

 

On the Southwest Side near Midway Airport, Chicago Fire Department authorities reported several wires down and some small fires from lightning strikes, but nothing major.

 

Area damage from the storm included the roof being blown off a retirement home in Aurora, displacing about 48 residents.

 

Wind apparently tore off the rubber membrane roof at the Constitution House, 401 N. Constitution on Aurora's west side, said city spokesman Dan Ferrelli.

 

No injuries were reported and the Red Cross was assisting in relocating the residents, he said.

 

Lightning struck the roof of a home in the 500 block of Hartford on the southwest side of Aurora, causing a small fire but no injuries. There also were numerous calls of wires down and tree damage, Ferrelli said.

 

The weather also temporarily halted Metra service on all Union Pacific-operated lines, which includes the UP North, the UP Northwest and the UP West, said Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.

 

Reile said UP’s operating policy calls to stop trains when high winds are expected to exceed 50 m.p.h.

 

"High winds and trains can create blow overs, so it's a safety precaution," Reile said.

 

As the worst of the fast-moving storm started to move out over Lake Michigan, it left in its wake reports of winds as high as 80 m.p.h. and rains that delivered 1.65 inches of rain within 30 minutes in Yorkville. Midway reported 1.43 inches of rain in 30 minutes.

 

The National Weather Service also issued a flash flood warning for the portions of the area.

 

It'll take several hours until the chance of bad weather moves completely out of the area, and Sunday looks like a beautiful day, with some clouds and temperatures in the mid-80s.

 

Chicago-area temperatures peaked in the low-to-mid 90s before the thunderstorms arrived to cool things off. Combined with higher humidity, the temperatures made being outside uncomfortable, with a heat index approaching 105.

 

Saturday's 90-degree temperatures made it the 39th day this year with temperatures that high; the record is 47, set in 1988, according to the National Weather Service. Saturday also was the 40th straight day with a high in the 80s or warmer, according to agency figures; that's the third longest ever behind 46 days in 2010 and 42 in 1955.

 

There's a good chance both of those records fall this summer – we've just entered August.

 

Dawn Rhodes, Heather Gillers, Kevin Williams, Rosemary R. Sobol and Jennifer Delgado contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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